Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Brian Freeman- Goodbye To The Dead- Review and Extract


It is almost a decade since Duluth said goodbye to its innocence. The city creeps ever closer to the anniversary of the year in which it found itself both gripped by murder and united in terror; and during which the pillar of its community, Detective Jonathan Stride, had his home and heart torn to ribbons by the claws of cancer. Cat Mateo, an orphan with a knack of landing on her feet, has bid farewell to a life on the streets. This once-stray teenager owes her rescue to Stride, the father figure she holds close to her heart. But Cat holds something else to her chest – a secret: the sheer power of which she could not possibly comprehend. A secret that, once out of the bag, will not just viciously scratch at Duluth’s still-healing wounds, but will make Stride wave goodbye to his convictions about the events nine years before, and say hello to his darkest fears…

Aside from Michael Connelly and Jack Kerley, there are few American thriller series where I have committed myself to reading each new book as it arrives. However, having been hooked by Brian Freeman’s Immoral  years ago, I am always happy to be drawn back to downtown Duluth, and to the trials and tribulations of Freeman’s stalwart homicide detective Jonathan Stride and his firecracker police partner Maggie Bei…

Despite my own familiarity with the series, and the characters contained within it, I love Freeman’s ability to so easily hook any new reader in, and this book would be a great place to start. The reason I say that is, that Freeman segues between two timelines, taking us back to the period immediately before the death of Stride’s wife, and how a particularly testing murder case will so resolutely intrude on the present. The balance between both narratives is perfect throughout, providing the reader with not only a more introspective examination of what makes Stride the man he is, but how criminal investigations are not always as clear cut as they seem, and how the sins of the past cannot always stay buried there. Also with the action pivoting between two timelines, Freeman sows small but pertinent details of his characters’ emotional weaknesses and strengths, and how they impact on their personal and professional relationships when put into focus nine years later.

With the police protagonists Stride and Bei being such well-realised characters and so integral to the thrust of the story , I did experience a little irritation at the antics of Cat, and the tendency to slightly simpering neediness of Stride’s current squeeze Serena. Although both these characters have experienced similar problems in the upbringing, I didn’t altogether believe in them, and did find them showing signs of stereotypical behaviour that I have seen oft repeated in fiction writing. However, Freeman’s depiction of Stride’s incredibly touching relationship with his late wife, Cindy, and the characterisation of Cindy herself, helped redress the balance in the female characterisation, and then of course, there’s Maggie Bei who totally dominates every scene she appears in. She is a brilliant character, small in stature, but in possession of a general ballsiness and frankness that will delight and entertain you throughout. And she’s got a soft side too. But not too soft…

I had a few misgivings about the plot, in terms of the use of coincidence as to Cat’s involvement in the whole affair, and the ending was a little contrived, but this can probably be attributed again to too much crime reading on my part. However, there were some nice touches including an ice-cold scheming woman whose character I loved, possibly guilty of mariticide  and her besotted sad act stalker, and the suspicion that arises in the reader as to her guilt or innocence. Did she? Or didn’t she? It’s fun playing detective and trying to work her out, amongst the smoke and mirrors that Freeman employs the way.

So a wee bit of a mixed affair for me personally, but I think the good aspects of this one, more than outweigh the little niggles it produced in me, and I would certainly recommend this as a series that warrants further investigation. Here’s an extract to tempt you in…


The Present

Serena spotted the Grand Am parked half a block from the

Duluth bar. Someone was waiting inside the car.

Mosquitoes clouded in front of the headlights. The trumpets

of a Russian symphony – something loud and mournful

by Shostakovich

blared through its open windows. Serena

smelled acrid, roll-your-own cigarette smoke drifting toward

her with the spitting rain. Beyond the car, through the haze,

she saw the milky lights of the Superior bridge arching across

the harbor.

There were just the two of them in the late-night darkness of

the summer street. Herself and the stranger behind the wheel of

the Grand Am. She couldn’t see the driver, but it didn’t matter

who was inside. Not yet.

She was here for someone else.

This was an industrial area, on the east end of Raleigh Street,

not far from the coal docks and the paper mill. Power lines sizzled

overhead. The ground under her feet shook with the passage

of a southbound train. She made sure her Mustang was locked,

with her Glock securely inside the glove compartment, and then

she crossed the wet street to the Grizzly Bear Bar. It was a dive

with no windows and an apartment overhead for the owner.

Cat was inside.

Serena felt guilty putting tracking software on the teenager’s phone, but she’d learned

quickly that Cat’s sweet face didn’t mean she could be trusted.

When she pulled open the door of the bar, a sweaty, beery

smell tumbled outside. She heard drunken voices shouting in

languages she didn’t understand and the twang of a George Strait

song on the jukebox. Big men lined up two-deep at the bar and

played poker at wooden tables.

Inside, she scanned the faces, looking for Cat. She spied her

near the wall, standing shoulder to shoulder with an older girl,

both of them head-down over smartphones. The two made an

unlikely pair. Cat was a classic beauty with tumbling chestnut

hair and a sculpted Hispanic face. Her skinny companion had

dyed orange spikes peeking out under a wool cap, and her ivory

face was studded with piercings.

Serena keyed a text into her own phone and sent it. Look up.

Cat’s face shot upward as she got the message. Her eyes widened,

and Serena read the girl’s lips. ‘Oh, shit.

Cat whispered urgently in her friend’s ear. Serena saw the

other girl study her like a scientist peering into the business end

of a microscope. The skinny girl wore a low-cut mesh shirt over

a black bra and a jean skirt that ended mid-thigh. She picked up

a drinks tray – she was a waitress – and gave Serena a smirk as

she strolled to the bar, leaving Cat by herself.

Serena joined Cat at the cocktail table where she was standing.

The girl’s smile had vanished, and so had all of her adultness.

Teenagers drifted so easily between maturity and innocence. She

was a child again, but Cat was also a child who was five months


I’m really sorry’ Cat began, but Serena cut her off.

Save it. I’m not interested in apologies.’

She stopped herself before saying anything more that she’d regret. She was too angry even to look at Cat.

Instead, by habit, she surveyed the people in the bar.

It was a rough crowd, not a hangout for college kids and middle-class tourists like the bars in Canal Park.

Hardened sailors came to the Grizzly Bear off the

cargo boats, making up for dry days on the lake with plenty of

booze. She heard raspy laughter and arguments that would spill

over into fights. The bare, muscled forearms of the men were

covered in cuts and scars, and they left greasy fingerprints on

dozens of empty beer bottles.

In the opposite corner of the bar, Serena noticed a woman

who didn’t fit in with the others. The woman sat by herself, a

nervous smile on her round face. Her long blond hair, parted

in the middle, hung down like limp spaghetti. She had an all-American

look, with blue eyes and young skin, like a cheerleader

plucked from a college yearbook. Maybe twenty-two. She kept

checking a phone on the table in front of her, and her stare shot

to the bar door every time it opened.

Something about the woman set off alarm bells in Serena’s

head. This was a bad place for her. She wanted to go over and

ask: Why are you here?

She didn’t, because that was the question she needed to ask


Why are you here, Cat?’

I wanted to go somewhere. I’m bored.’

That’s not an answer.’

Anna works here,’ Cat said. ‘She and I know the owner.’

Cat nodded at the waitress who’d been with her at the table.

Anna was playing with her phone as she waited for the bartender

at the taps. One of the sailors made a grab for the girl’s ass, and

Anna intercepted his hand without so much as a glance at the

man’s face.

She used to live on the streets, like me,’ Cat told Serena. ‘We’d

hang out together. If she found a place to sleep, she let me crash

there, too.’

I get it, but that’s not your world anymore.’

I’m entitled to have friends,’ Cat insisted, her lower lip bulging

with defiance.

You are, but no one from your old life is a friend.’

Serena knew the struggle the girl faced. Not even three months

ago, Cat Mateo had been a runaway. A teenage prostitute. When

someone began stalking her in the city’s graffiti graveyard, she’d

gone to Duluth police lieutenant Jonathan Stride for help. Serena

and Stride had been lovers for four years, and she knew he had

a weakness for a woman in trouble. They’d helped capture the

man who’d been targeting Cat, and when the girl was safe, Stride

made a decision that surprised Serena. He suggested that the

teenager live with them, have her baby there, and grow up in a

house with adults who cared about her.

Serena said yes, but she’d never believed that it would be easy

for any of them. And it wasn’t.

You’re a sight for sore eyes in this place,’ a male voice


A man in a rumpled blue dress shirt and loosely knotted tie

stopped at their table. His eyes darted between Serena’s face and

the full breasts swelling under her rain-damp T-shirt. He wiped

his hands on a Budweiser bar towel.

This is Fred,’ Cat interjected. ‘He owns the bar.’

The man shot out a hand, which Serena shook. His fingers

were sticky from sugar and limes. ‘Fred Sissel,’ he said cheerfully.

Sissel was around fifty years old, with slicked-back graying

hair and a trimmed mustache. He wore the over-eager grin of a

man who’d tried to smile his way out of everything bad in life.

Fights. Debts. Drunk driving. His cuffs were frayed, and his shirt

and tie were dotted with old food stains. His face had the mottled

brown of too many visits to a tanning salon.

So what’s your name, and where have you been all my life?’

Sissel asked. The teeth behind his smile were unnaturally white.

Serena slid her badge out of her jeans pocket. ‘My name’s

Serena Dial. I’m with the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office.’

Sissel’s mustache drooped like a worm on a fishing hook. The

sailors at the other tables had a radar for the gold glint of a badge,

and the tenor in the bar changed immediately.

Sorry, officer, is there a problem?’ Sissel asked, losing the

fake grin.

Do you know this girl?’

Sure, she’s a friend of Anna’s.’

Do you know she’s seventeen years old?’

Sissel swore under his breath. ‘Hey, I don’t want any trouble,’

he said.

You’ve already got trouble, and if I find her in this place again,

you’ll have even more.’

Yeah. Understood. Whatever you say.’

The bar owner raised his arms in surrender and backed away.

Serena saw emotions skipping like beach stones across Cat’s face.

Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Anger.

Fred’s a nice guy,’ the girl said finally. ‘You didn’t have to be

mean to him.’

Does he serve you alcohol?’

No,’ Cat said, but Serena didn’t trust her face. She leaned

closer to the girl, and although there was no booze on her breath,

she smelled cigarette smoke like stale perfume on her beautiful


You’ve been smoking.’

Just one.’

Serena wanted to scream at the girl, but she held her voice

in check. ‘You’re pregnant. You can’t smoke. You can’t drink.’

I told you, it was just one.’

Serena didn’t answer. She couldn’t fight teenage logic. As a

cop, she’d seen good girls make bad choices her entire life. She

knew how easy it was to cross the line. At Cat’s age, she’d been

a runaway herself, living with a girlfriend in Las Vegas after

escaping the grip of a Phoenix drug dealer. Not a month had

gone by in Vegas where she hadn’t fended off the temptation

to gamble, buy drugs, steal, or sell herself for the money she

needed. She felt lucky that the only serious vice she carried from

those days was being a recovering alcoholic. But luck was all it

was. A bad choice on a bad day, and her life would have taken

a different turn.

Across the bar, Serena saw the young blond woman – the

school cheerleader type – grab her phone suddenly and get to

her feet. She was nervous and excited and couldn’t control her

smile. She smoothed her long straight hair and moistened her

lips. If there was a mirror, she would have checked her reflection

in it. She took a breath, and her chest swelled. She headed for

the bar door, but backtracked to retrieve a baby-blue suitcase

from behind her table.

To Serena, it felt wrong. Visitors didn’t come to Duluth and

wind up in this bar on their first night. Her instincts told her to

stop the woman and ask questions. To intervene. To protect her.

Are you going to tell Stride?’ Cat asked.

Serena focused on the teenager again. She knew that Cat was

afraid of Stride’s disapproval more than anything else in her

life. He was like a father to her, and she was terrified of disappointing


Yes,’ Serena said. ‘You know I have to tell him.’

Cat’s eyes filled with tears. She was a typical teenage girl,

using tears to get her way, and Serena worked hard to keep her

own face as stern as stone. Meanwhile, the bar door opened and

closed, letting in the patter of rain from outside.

The blond woman was gone.

It doesn’t matter what you tell him,’ Cat said, rubbing her

nose on her sleeve. ‘He’s going to kick me out sooner or later.’

Her voice was choked with self-pity. She was smart and beautiful

and eager to believe the worst about herself. She looked

for any reason to believe that her life wasn’t worth saving. To

sabotage the second chance she’d been given. That was part of

her guilt over who she’d been.

It has nothing to do with that,’ Serena told her calmly, ‘and

you know it.’

When he was married to Cindy, Stride didn’t want kids,’ Cat

protested. ‘So why would he want me now?’

You’re wrong about that, but even if it were true, it doesn’t

matter. He took you in, Cat. He wants you there. We both do.

What happened in the past, what happened with Cindy, has

nothing to do with who he is today.’

You wish,’ the girl snapped.

The words shot out of her like a poisoned arrow. Funny how

teenagers could always find your weak spot and apply pressure.

If there was anything in Serena’s life that made her feel like an

insecure child, it was the thought of Cindy Stride. It was the suspicion

that Jonny was still in love with his wife.

Still in love with the wife who died of cancer eight years ago.

Cat knew what she’d done. She looked upset now. ‘I’m sorry.

I didn’t mean that.’

But she did. And she was right.

Come on,’ Serena said, shoving down her own emotions. ‘Let’s

get out of here.’

She took Cat’s arm in a tight grip, but then something made

her freeze. A woman screamed. It came from the street, muffled

by the clamor of the bar. She almost missed it. The cry stopped as

quickly as it started, cutting off like the slamming of a window,

but Serena knew exactly who it was. She cursed herself for not

listening to her instincts when she had the chance.

Serena told Cat to stay where she was. She shoved through

the crowd and broke out into the street. Outside, the drizzle had

become a downpour, blown sideways by the wind. The Grand

Am she’d spotted earlier was still parked half a block away, its

headlights white and bright, steaming in the rain. Immediately

in front of the sedan was the woman from the bar, her body

flailing as she fought to free herself from a man who held her

in a headlock.

Serena shouted, and the woman saw her. Soundlessly, in panic,

she pleaded for rescue. Serena marched toward them to break

up the assault, but she’d barely taken a step when a gun blew up

the night. One shot. Loud and lethal. The blond woman’s pretty

face, twisted in panic, became a spray of bone, brain, blood, and

skin. Her knees buckled; her body slumped to the wet pavement.

In shock, Serena threw herself sideways toward the outer wall

of the bar.

The bar door opened, and Cat called out curiously, ‘What was

that? What’s going on?’

Serena yelled with the protective fury of a mother. ‘Cat, get

back inside right now!

Then she was running. She saw a tall man in a hooded sweatshirt,

his back to her as he escaped. The killer. She didn’t stop

for the woman lying in the street. There was nothing she could

do to help her. She charged after the man, struggling to match

his steps, but the pain of the effort weighed on her chest. Rain

soaked her black hair and blurred her eyes. The asphalt was slick.

The man sped into the darkness of a side street that ended in

dense trees, with Serena ten feet behind in pursuit. Matchbox

houses on both sides bloomed with light as people crept to their


Serena closed on the man when he slipped and lost a step.

The woods loomed directly ahead of them. She knew where she

was; the street ended in sharp steps that led down over a creek

into the grassy fields of Irving Park. She took a chance, and she

jumped. Her body hit the man in the square of the back, kicking

him forward, bringing both of them down. He slid onto the mossslick

concrete steps. She scrambled to her feet and dove for him,

but he was ready for her. He spun around in the blackness and

hammered a fist into her stomach. He grabbed her head. His

fingers drove her chin into the rusty railing bordering the steps,

where bone struck metal. Her teeth rattled as if driven upward

into her mouth. She collapsed to her knees.

He skidded on his heels and jumped down the rest of the steps.

She heard his footsteps splashing into the creek below them. He

was gone, breaking free into the wide-open land of the park. She

hadn’t seen his face.

People from the bar ran toward her, shouting. Somewhere

among them, Cat called her name over and over in fear. Serena

tried to stand, but she was too dizzy, and she fell forward, tasting

blood on her tongue. She was on all fours now. Her hands pushed

blindly around the muddy steps, hunting for the railing to use

as leverage as she stood up. She felt rocks and tree branches

and bug-eaten leaves beneath her fingers, and then, finally, she

brushed against the iron of the railing.

Except – no.

What she felt under the wet skin of her hand wasn’t the railing

mounted beside the steps. It was something else. Something

metal and lethal and still hot to the touch.

When her brain righted itself, she realized it was a gun…


September 2015 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Hurrah! September was relatively free of I.T. gremlins so have managed to catch up a bit with myself. An excellent month with three blog tours- including the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t Simon Toyne article on Solomon Creed, a review of debut author Rod Reynolds’ The Dark Inside, and a review of The Defenceless the second book from the excellent Kati Hiekkapelto. I’ve travelled far and wide in my crime reading this month, and I’ve also managed to squeeze in a couple of fiction titles too. If my trusty Dodo Pad (which organises my life) is correct, there are three more blog tours scheduled for October, including a debut that is quite simply brilliant, and will knock your collective socks off. Intriguing huh? A good month’s reading and some further treats, as always, lie in store…

Books reviewed this month:

Piero Chiara- The Disappearance of Signora Giulia 

 Alberto Barrera Tyszka- Crimes

Rod Reynolds- The Dark Inside

Hester Young- The Gates of Evangeline

Anthony Horowitz- Trigger Mortis

Kati Hiekkapelto- The Defenceless

Fergus McNeill- Eye Contact


25807823In a break from tradition, I’m awarding my book of the month to a book that I haven’t actually posted a full -length review of. Hey, that’s the way I roll sometimes…

Top honours this month go to Steve Mosby’s I Know Who Did It, which brilliantly reprises elements of his earlier thriller The 50/50 Killer which is still for my money one of the best crime books ever written.

With the suspenseful premise of a woman who appears to have returned from the dead, a detective haunted by the murder of his young son, and the nefarious reach of an old crime on a current investigation, Mosby’s control of the structure of contrasting narratives and plot points is faultless throughout.

Once again Mosby circumvents the shallowness of some in the genre, by really digging down into the turmoil of the human psyche, with two of his police protagonists having experienced tremendous loss, and provides a thoughtful and empathetic study of life in the grip of grief, and the healing process that follows. However, despite this deeper theme to the book, he never loses sight of the need to construct a clever and intriguing thriller, that will bewitch the reader, providing more than one surprise, an utterly unexpected denouement in the creepiest of settings, and interweaving some interesting perspectives on life, death, grief, psychological disturbance, religion, and the much debated theory of nature vs nurture. Meaty issues, violence, and a well realised blend of police procedural and psychological thriller. Highly recommended, and quite deservedly my book of the month.


Fergus McNeill- Eye Contact

fergusFrom the outside, Robert Naysmith is a successful businessman, handsome and charming. But for years he’s been playing a deadly game. He doesn’t choose his victims. Each is selected at random – the first person to make eye contact after he begins ‘the game’ will not have long to live. Their fate is sealed. When the body of a young woman is found on Severn Beach, Detective Inspector Harland is assigned the case. It’s only when he links it to an unsolved murder in Oxford that the police begin to guess at the awful scale of the crimes. But how do you find a killer who strikes without motive?

As promised in last month’s round-up, this is another of the authors I have discovered thanks to CrimeFest- the crime fiction convention- in Bristol. Eye Contact is the first of Fergus McNeill’s books featuring Detective Inspector Graham Harland, which pits him against one of the most sinister, yet charming, serial killers, to grace the pages of a crime thriller…

From the outset, McNeill eschews the whole run-of-the-mill serial killer thriller tropes, and their turgid familiarity, by bringing to us a serial killer that you wouldn’t really mind going to the pub with for an evening of convivial company. Just don’t let him walk you home afterwards. Naysmith is brilliantly portrayed as both a confident, charming businessman, who has a way with the ladies, but also happy to bathe in the respect of his male peers. However, beneath this persona lurks a wolfish, calculating and devious killer, with his personal credo of selecting a fixed time of day, which when it passes, spells doom for the person to make eye contact with him after this allotted time. Hence, he exhibits none of the well-worn traits of your average serial killer with his seemingly random victim selection, and his propensity for stalking his prey to ascertain the absolute prime time for their demise. He hunts outside of his social group, across both genders, and employs different killing methods, whilst upholding a demeanour of respectability underscored by the tiniest flashes of what his outer skin conceals. McNeill balances both sides of Naysmith’s personality absolutely perfectly throughout, and writes him with such an air of authenticity and knowledge that I guarantee you will be held in a spell throughout.

Pitted against the Machiavellian Naysmith, is McNeill’s police protagonist, DI Graham Harland, who in an interesting synchronicity with the man he hunts, carries an equally intriguing and complex blend of character. There is no doubt that Harland is an extremely dedicated and accomplished police officer, but not far from the surface is the underlying grief and anger he carries one year on from his wife’s untimely death. We witness his utter frustration and deep seated hurt as he struggles with therapy sessions, and the flashes of rage and bleak moods, that life in the advent of a loved one’s death so often produces. McNeill draws his character with a sympathetic air, but equally makes us frustrated on Harland’s behalf as he falls foul of his inner torment, sometimes impeding his ability to be the effective police officer we sense he is. As Harland’s investigation intensifies, it is a delight to see these two contrasting male characters get drawn together, whilst cleverly exhibiting similar traits to one another which we recognise, and share a knowing nod about.

Set around the south west, and being an area of the country I’m very familiar with, McNeill’s use of location is staunchly realistic and recognisable throughout the book. With Naysmith roving around in the course of his business and killing activities, McNeill gets the chance to balance the book with rural, suburban and inner city settings, that really underpin the story very well indeed, and each location gives a steadfast point for the reader to visualise either Naysmith’s or Harland’s place within it, being very well-realised.

As is so often the case with the sprawling output of the crime fiction genre, there are authors that slip the net, so to speak. Thank goodness I have discovered Fergus McNeill, as I’m sure that his back catalogue will be swiftly caught up with, and become one of my favourites to recommend. Excellent.


Blog Tour- Kati Hiekkapelto- The Defenceless

katiWhen an old man is found dead on the road – seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair – police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. As she begins to unravel an increasingly complicated case, she’s led on a deady trail where illegal immigration, drugs and ultimately murder threaten not only her beliefs, but her life. Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a similarly dangerous investigation. As the two cases come together, it becomes clear that having the law on their side may not be enough…

The first thing to say is that if The Defenceless is your maiden voyage into the world of detective Anna Fekete, Kati Hiekkapelto references just enough details from the The Hummingbird– the first in the series- to get you up to speed, and not too much that it would deter you from picking it up. Indeed, I was only a few pages into this one when the thought suddenly occurred as to why I had not read Hiekkapelto before- note to self to buy and read The Hummingbird as well. From the outset this book ticks so many of the boxes that Scandinavian crime fiction lovers look for in their favourite crime sub-genre and here’s why…

The real stand-out feature of this book is the strength and balance of Hiekkapelto’s plotting, as the narrative pivots between the seemingly disparate plots of two missing elderly people, a dead drug dealer, the insidious rise of motorcycle gang culture, and the truly heart-rending tale of a young man trying to survive the inhospitable climate, both social and meteorological, as an illegal immigrant in Finland. It is a testament to the assured and wholly convincing writing style of Hiekkapelto that all of these contrasting sub-plots are so beautifully balanced, as in the hands of a lesser writer the links between them may not have been so authentically achieved. Consequently, Hiekkapelto also perfectly times some unexpected reveals, with at least two of these criminal cases being solved very late on in the book, having already put her readers through the emotional ringer of the initial investigations. In true Scandinavian style, and very reminiscent of the brilliant Swedish duo Roslund-Hellstrom, Hiekkapelto also unflinchingly turns her gaze on the socio-economic climate of Finland, particularly in relation to the story of Sammy, the young illegal immigrant, and the traumatic events that have brought him to Europe. This arc of the story powerfully evolves over the course of the book, and as Sammy becomes more deeply mired in the criminal investigation, Hiekkapelto subtly shapes our perception of him, and the uncertain future he faces. Likewise, Hiekkapelto presents for our dubious pleasure a damning indictment on the gang and drug culture that seeks to ensnare and overpower not only impressionable youths, but their insidious effect on respectable members of the community who come into contact with them. It’s a fairly bleak vision of modern society but unerringly truthful.

And so to Hiekkapelto’s central character, Anna Fekete, who combines the elements of silk and steel in equal measure. A focused, highly professional police officer, and meticulous in her approach to the cases she faces, with a sharp and naturally inquisitive mind. Being an outsider herself, due to her Hungarian background, she has a natural affinity to those on the outer reaches of Finnish society, and thus a fairer view of the immigration issues. She’s fairly well-respected, and for the most part enjoys a comfortable relationship with her colleagues, but in true crime fiction style she has two Achilles heels. One is her irresponsible, alcoholic brother Akos, and the other, her exceptionally misguided choices of romantic entanglements, which leads to much self-recrimination and sleepless nights. For the most part, I didn’t particularly feel the need for the latter, as her life experience as a non-native Finn, her relationship with her brother, and the very nature of her profession, provided more than enough points of interest. But I concede it is always nice to poke at useless men with a sharp stick. Talking of useless men, I must mention my favourite character, detective Esko Niemi, who on paper is one of the most objectionable, casually racist and misogynistic characters ever to grace crime fiction- I loved him. With each foolhardy pronouncement, cutting comment or insensitive reaction, he endeared himself to me even more, exposing his charmless self, and blinkered idiocy at every turn. Except, more importantly, when it really matters- when he has to think on his feet to protect himself or his colleagues, or when certain chickens come home to roost and we see the man behind the mask of stupidity. Brilliantly done, and another stand-out feature of this gripping slice of Scandi-noir. Can thoroughly recommend this one.

(With thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with The Defenceless blog tour here:

Defenceless Blog Tour

Anthony Horowitz- Trigger Mortis


Following in the footsteps of Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver and William Boyd, Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz proves itself one of the best retro-James Bond novels to date. Having been left a little bruised and confused by Horowitz’s excursions into the world of Sherlock Holmes, I was more than a little wary of his contribution to the Bond ouvre. But as my recent quote to customers of this one being a ‘really Bond-y Bond novel’ attests, it’s been a total delight to have my apprehension over this one so delightfully undone…

The absolute stand-out feature of this book, is with how much care, attention, and respect, Horowitz affords his depiction of James Bond himself. The little references and attention to the smallest details of Fleming’s legendary secret agent is first class, and more than once a wry smile of recognition passed my lips, as some character detail was inserted effortlessly into the narrative. It was also gratifying to see a small section of Fleming’s own writing woven into one of the chapters, accrued from Horowitz’s obviously studious reading of Fleming’s work authorised by his estate. Hence, Horowitz’s depiction of Bond carries with it a wonderful sense of familiarity and authenticity, which has been sometimes noticeably absent from a couple of the proceeding Bond pastiches. Equally, when one mentions Bond it cannot go without comment that there will be women involved! There is a welcome reappearance of the kick-ass Pussy Galore at the start of the book, but somehow this felt a little unresolved, and didn’t quite gel within the book as a whole. However, with the inclusion of the brilliant Jeopardy Lane, who steps in when Pussy Galore departs , Horowitz has created a female character who encapsulates all that you want from a female character being both feisty and brave, but posing the all important question… is she immune to Bond’s charm? You’ll have to read it to find out!

The plot is terrific carrying all the quintessential moments of extreme peril for our hero, as he becomes immersed in a plot to perpetrate a terrorist attack on New York, under the cover of a U.S. Rocket launch in the fifties space race. There is a good balance between all the attendent details of the U.S. vs Russia space race, and as a bit of a space nerd, I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the story. Earlier in the book there is a heart in mouth episode as Bond also takes part in a death defying motor race at Nurburgring, which is wrought with tension, but again underscored by Horowitz’s obvious research into the motor-sport of this particular period. The book consistently contains an air of peril, with all the action and violence one naturally expects from a Bond adventure. Bond’s nemesis in the book is the sinister millionaire Korean- Sin Jai-Seong aka Jason Sin- who in true Fleming style arouses a strange kind of sympathy in the reader with the tale of his damaging formative years, but is still a total megalomaniac ne’er do well- an archetypal great Bond villain. His twisted verbosity and deranged demeanour is brilliantly rendered, and he is a villain worthy of the attention of the debonair and dangerous Bond.

So altogether quite keen on this one, with some superb characterisation, a good high quotient of derring-do and all the little details that fit this book so nicely into Fleming’s legacy. Maybe for this reader just not enough Pussy- Galore that is…

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Hester Young- The Gates of Evangeline

9781473517974-largeWhen grieving mother and New York journalist Charlie Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children after her only son passes away, she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet she soon realizes these are not the hallucinations of a bereaved mother. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees―if she can make sense of them.
The disturbing images lead her from her home in suburban New York City to small-town Louisiana, where she takes a commission to write a true-crime book based on the case of Gabriel Deveau, the young heir to a wealthy and infamous Southern family, whose kidnapping thirty years ago has never been solved. There she meets the Deveau family, none of whom are telling the full truth about the night Gabriel disappeared. And as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust―and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could have imagined…

Suffused with the hot, steamy atmosphere of Louisiana The Gates of Evangeline immediately immerses the reader into the leisurely pace of life in the deep South, and the chasm between the have and have-nots. Inveigling her protagonist, Charlie Cates in the lives of the singularly dislikeable Deveau family, with all their deep and dirty secrets, Young spins a tale flavoured with a good dose of Southern Gothic, and a family saga tinged by an otherworldly supernatural twist. Young also captures perfectly the feel of this atmosphere of privilege and superiority that oozes through every pore of this family, and their innate sense of entitlement. With her vivid use of the Louisiana setting, and the depiction of the Deveau mansion and grounds, this aspect of the book is particularly potent. Equally, I loved the use of the steamy, festering, alligator-infested swamps, backing onto the Deveau property which added a real air of threat and menace to the whole affair. The description of these was absolutely enthralling, and sent a proper chill down this reader’s spine.

Labouring intermittently under the grief of having lost her own child, and some strange deviations into mystical dreams and visions, on the whole, Charlie Cates embodies a good mix of dogged journalist and vulnerable woman. She is an engaging protagonist, if a little too ruled by other parts of her anatomy rather than her head, as she embarks on a rather dodgy romantic liaison in the course of her investigation into this really rather unpleasant family. I did find the whole ‘vision’ thing a little wearing as the book progressed, as I was much more impressed with her when she was in journalistic mode, trying to tease out confessions and soliciting information from each family member as to the events thirty years previously. With her natural amiability and persistence, she does indeed uncover some grim truths, some obvious, some not, and these more than anything give a credibility and solidity to her character, outside of her more mystic Meg moments, and the slightly cheesy romance with the admittedly buff landscape gardener, Noah, who has more than one secret of his own.

What I particularly enjoyed about this book was the way that Young had obviously strived so hard to make this a comfortable, fairly linear and entertaining read for the reader. There were no real surprises, and a few hackneyed plot devices, but it was really refreshing to read a book that just smoothly carried me along, without making any real demands along the way. It was almost as if Young had sat down and thought what sort of book would entertain her as a reader, and then endeavoured to write that book, and so the book carries a certain kind of charm to it, that lifts it above the slight clunkiness of some of the narrative. I also liked the knowing reference that Young incorporates into her story where one character remarks that, “Not a lot of writers can pull off the whole Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil thing” as The Gates of Evangeline does navigate similar waters, if less successfully. Yes, the denouement and reveals were not particularly well -disguised, and some of the character’s actions did feel a little out of step at times, but I quickly started ignoring the more obvious missteps, and instead found myself avidly reading to the end, thoroughly enjoying Young’s uncomplicated and engaging style.

(With thanks to Random House for the ARC)

Blog Tour- Exclusive Guest Post- Simon Toyne- ‘Solomon Creed Meet Leo’


A big Hollywood extravaganza welcome to you all for day two of the Simon Toyne Blog Tour, celebrating the release of his gripping new thriller Solomon Creed. The Raven is particularly delighted to host an exclusive guest post by an author with stars in his eyes. Possibly. As long as Leonardo hasn’t heard about Cleethorpes…

“So this is how it happened.

Agent: ‘Leonardo DiCaprio wants to option Solomon Creed.’

Me: You’re kidding.’

Agent: ‘I am so not kidding.’

Me: ‘Leonardo DiCaprio?’

Agent: ‘Yes.’

Me: (long pause)

Agent: ‘He’s an actor.’

Me: ‘I know who he is.’

This is, more or less, what happened to me a couple of months ago.

41OgxOimpgL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I was standing in my living room, staring out of the window at the garden and trying to reconcile the utter domestic ordinariness of my situation with the words I was hearing. I felt sure my agent was about to crack up and say ‘only kidding!’, only my agent doesn’t do stuff like that, she’s very professional and not generally prone to Jackass style japery- so it had to be real. Except it couldn’t be. I was born in Cleethorpes. Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t option books written by people from Cleethorpes. It just doesn’t happen.

After that initial, surreal phone-call it all went quiet for several loooong months while a contract was drawn up, argued over, re-drawn, argued over again and eventually signed. In all that time I carried the news around like a hot coal, desperate to show it to people, blow on it and say ‘look how it glows’ but instead I had to hold it tight in my hand, feeling the keen burn of it while pretending I wasn’t holding anything at all.

This became particularly frustrating in the run-up to publication, exactly the time you want to shine the brightest light you can at your book and say ‘look at this one, look at mine, someone really famous thinks it’s good, you need to buy this book and read it before Hollywood ruins it,’ but I couldn’t. I tried to tell myself that it wouldn’t happen, that something would go wrong, and that Hollywood does indeed ruin most books anyway so I was better off out of it. I even started working on an anecdote of how Leonardo Di Caprio ‘nearly’ optioned Solomon Creed, wondering if I could actually get a bit of mileage out of that instead, trying to phrase it in such a way that it didn’t end up sounding like my book had been considered and then ultimately rejected. But I never did quite the wording right in my head.


Green-Hollywood-Sign-Green-CelebritiesBut now the deal is done, or as done as it ever can be in Hollywood terms, and I can finally show you the red hot thing I’ve been carrying around all this time. The pragmatic side of me still knows that an option is just an option, and that Leonardo DiCaprio may change his mind, and that the option will elapse in a year’s time anyway (and that Hollywood tends to ruin books anyway). But that same voice is also whispering to me another truth now, and that is that books written by people from Cleethorpes don’t get optioned by A-list Hollywood superstars. So who knows. Stranger things have already happened.”





Don’t forget to follow the rest of tour and find out more about the mysterious

Solomon Creed…



Blog Tour- Rod Reynolds- The Dark Inside- Review

51zZxD6mTsL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_It’s always an interesting reading experience seeing an author run with the facts of a true unsolved crime, and carefully construct their own interpretation of who may have been responsible, and their psychological motivation for seemingly senseless attacks. The Dark Inside from debut author Rod Reynolds, is based loosely on the events surrounding The Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946, where young couples were singled out at a local courting spot and brutally attacked. The Texarkana Phantom, as the killer was dubbed, killed five people and assaulted three more, but evaded apprehension, with the killings stopping as quickly as they had begun. With this as the central premise for the story,  Reynolds takes us on an atmospheric, clever, and entirely plausible trip into a small community racked by fear and suspicion.

The real stand out character of the piece is Charlie Yates, the beleaguered and harried journalist who finds himself sent on a fool’s mission by his eminently dislikeable boss, and feeling forced to demonstrate his instinctive journalist’s curiosity and nous in order to save his job in New York. Yates finds himself at odds with pretty much everyone he encounters as an interloper and suspicious of not only his motives but by what he uncovers below the surface of the more ‘respectable’ folk of Texarkana. Reynolds bestows Yates with a real core of morality, unusual in itself for a press journalist, and I like the way his character pivots between outspoken arrogance to moments of extreme self doubt and emotional vulnerability, shaped by events in his personal life. As he navigates his way around the local press, law enforcement officers, and the mayor in search of the killer, and evading the less than honourable members of these factions, Yates needs his wits about him to get to the truth. I was slightly less convinced by the relationship he forms with Lizzie, as it seemed a little forced in the overall narrative, but his essential moral fibre, doggedness, and sometimes foolhardy actions with which his character is balanced, made up for this slight concern.

Screen-Shot-2013-04-17-at-7_38_06-PMReynolds is to be admired for taking a leap of faith, especially as a debut novelist, to write something so outside of his normal experience, and equally as a Brit setting his book across the water in a community where the ghosts of this crime still loom in the shared consciousness. As an outsider looking in, and this being one of my ‘favourite’ unsolved crime mysteries, the setting and atmosphere of Texarkana felt incredibly authentic, and as I listened to a selection of Texas blues artists whilst reading this, the cadence and rhythm of the book worked perfectly. With this book comparisons have been made to Daniel Woodrell and Tom Franklin, and I would say that in terms of the meticulousness of the setting and period atmosphere this is justified. Add in the easy style of dialogue, reminiscent of an author such as Ace Atkins, and this book will tick many boxes for the American crime fiction fan. Reynold’s careful construction of a viable and believable conclusion to this famous case also holds water. Obviously it would be remiss of me to go to deeply into the culprit(s) but, suffice to say, Reynolds has not made the mistake of going for a too outlandish conclusion at odds with how the story has built up, which was gratifying to see, and which outweighed the slightly (in my opinion) ‘chocolate box’ ending.

All in all an intelligent and atmospheric recreation of some very dark and brutal events indeed, and more than happy to see that a sequel is in the offing. A highly recommended debut.

Keep an eye on the dates below for more on The Dark Inside

RR USE THIS (With thanks to Faber for the reading copy of The Dark Inside)

Piero Chiara- The Disappearance of Signora Giulia/ Alberto Barrera Tyszka- Crimes

51To0t8M8jL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Regular visitors to this blog will know that along with my other preferred sub genres of crime writing, I have a particular affection for those small, but perfectly formed, foreign crime in translation novels. It is with some delight that I’ve discovered this new line-up from Pushkin Press under their banner of Pushkin Vertigo, a series of releases bringing us some little classics from France, Austria, Spain, Japan and Italy with more to follow. My first stop is The Disappearance of Signora Giulia by Piero Chiara, one of the most celebrated writers of the post-war period. The winner of more than a dozen literary prizes, he is widely read and studied in Italy and this is his first book to be translated into English. A deceptively simple tale of a woman who has seemingly deserted the family home to disappear into thin air, leaving her husband, Esengrini- a prominent criminal lawyer- and daughter at a loss to understand or explain her disappearance. Enter steadfast Detective Sciancalepre who, over the passage of some time, cannot let this case go, being absolutely convinced that Giulia’s husband knows far more about his wife’s disappearance that he will admit to, with the added confusion of red herrings and blind alleys along the way. The interplay between Sciancalepre  and the cocksure, arrogant Esengrini is a real highlight of this taut tale, and despite its brevity, the reader is challenged as much as the detective to work out where Giulia has gone and who is the guilty party in her disappearance. Likewise, the character development, particularly of Giulia’s daughter, Emilia, as she grows into womanhood is neatly developed, moving on with her life despite the pall of sadness at the inexplicable loss of her mother. There is a slight anomaly in the narrative, which you may identify for yourselves, that proved a minor irritation, but that aside, any devotee of  noir crime will enjoy this little sojourn into domestic noir in pure Italian style.

51HBtXCx-bL__SX345_BO1,204,203,200_From the author of the brilliant The Sickness (shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), comes a new collection of 12 short stories, under the simple title of Crimes. What is most engaging about this collection is how Tyszka disseminates the theme of ‘crime’, to fit the moral, political and emotional themes that the stories encapsulate. He experiments with the idea of crime, and how it manifests itself in normal people’s lives and experiences, taking us from the raw human emotion of political dissent and demonstration, to the loss of a child, to the discovery of a disembodied hand, to a strange little tale of a man who bites dogs. Yes. You did read that correctly. Tyszka’s writing is full of subtle nuances, and quite often the raw strength of these tales lays in what he leaves unsaid, leaving significant reader participation at the close of several of the stories. He invites us to compile our own endings and resolutions, having given us the base of the narrative, which makes for an interactive and challenging reading experience. The stories are multi-faceted and surprising, whilst carefully incorporating some razor-sharp commentary on Latin America and its travails. His writing is crisp, uncomplicated, and inherently more powerful because of it, and the translation by Margaret Jull Costa is perfectly in step with his unique writing style. Something different, something challenging, but ultimately entirely rewarding.




August 2015 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Started off the month at quite a pace, and more than happy that despite some recurrent issues with my technology, managed to post ten reviews. However, thanks to the blip with the I.T. (yes, I did try turning it off- and back on again) there are another couple of reviews in reserve for September posting. With three blog tours on the horizon for September for Simon Toyne- Solomon Creed, Rod Reynolds- The Dark Inside and Kati Hiekkapelto- The Defenceless, and a stack of new releases,  I’m also going to try and get to a lovely little pile of books from authors I discovered in May at CrimeFest. Fingers crossed. It’s going to be a busy month that’s for sure!

Books read and reviewed:

Neely Tucker- Murder D.C. (

Jason Hewitt- The Dynamite Room

Simon Sylvester- The Visitors

 S. Williams- Tuesday Falling

M. O. Walsh- My Sunshine Away

Catherine Hunt- Someone Out There

Jax Miller- Freedom’s Child

Doug Johnstone- The Jump

Olen Steinhauer- All The Old Knives (

Ava Marsh- Untouchable (


tuesInterestingly this has been a month of real highs and lows but there are three books worthy of another mention before the grand unveiling. I absolutely loved the fresh, vibrant and unique debut Tuesday Falling by S. Williams, and have already been recommending it to colleagues and customers alike. Mixing the hidden history of life below London, with cutting edge technology, this was a real winner.  Pacey plot, great characters and some real “well, I never knew that” moments.

I was bewitched by Olen Steinhauer’s All The Old Knives with it’s seemingly familiar settingall-the-old-knives-978144729574701 of an intimate dinner for two, but by the clever use of shifting timelines in a fairly compact form, revealed much more beneath it’s surface, in a twisting tale of CIA chicanery and double-dealing. An intelligent and compelling thriller.

The-Jump-Doug-JohnstoneAlso, Doug Johnstone’s The Jump, which could certainly feature in my end of year round-up, due to the emotional intensity and sensitivity with which he draws his main character, and the mesmeric quality of the prose. Powerful writing, which would put many contemporary fiction writers in the shade.


CJZBS7gVAAAmIfbHowever, top honour this month goes to Jax Miller- Freedom’s Child– with its edgy subject matter, a brilliant main protagonist in the form of the eponymous Freedom, and for demonstrating all that the Raven likes best about gritty American fiction. Lean and lyrical prose, social comment, a sublime use of location, and a book that resonates long after the reading of it. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.


Create a free website or blog at | The Baskerville Theme.

Up ↑


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,318 other followers